Why a Shootout Between Black Panthers and Law Enforcement 50 Years Ago Matters Today

Written by Paul Ringel

Published on 24th February 2021

Why a Shootout Between Black Panthers and Law Enforcement 50 Years Ago Matters Today
Photo: Members of the Black Panther Party outside the High Point property raided by police. By Sonny Hedgecock/High Point Enterprise

The 1971 raid marks a nationwide militarization of police relations with Black protest groups and Africa Americans as a group.

“The force was ‘heavily armed and wearing flak jackets.’”

In the early hours of Feb. 10, 1971, police surrounded a property in High Point, North Carolina, where members of the Black Panther Party lived and worked. In the ensuing shootout, a Panther and a police officer were both wounded.

The incident did not receive much national attention at the time – armed conflict of this type was relatively common during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

But 50 years on, as the U.S. reckons with a year that saw militarized police confront Black Lives Matter protesters and fail to prevent an attack on the U.S. Capitol, I believe the circumstances of this shootout are relevant today.

As a historian who has interviewed participants in the confrontation for a coming book, I see the raid in the context of a then-emerging strategy of urban policing in the U.S., shaped by the racial and political clashes of the 1960s and forged through a growing partnership between local and federal law enforcement. That strategy, of criminalizing Black political activism at a time when white reactionary protesters were accommodated, has defined police responses to Americans’ activism – and political violence – over the past half-century.

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